Top Ten Abdominal Exercises

The abdominal region or muscles of the “core” area tend to be especially resistant to toning efforts. Aerobic conditioning is important as it burns the fat that layers muscles. In addition, engaging in regular, effective strength training exercises that work all abdominal complex muscles is essential for achieving a trim, toned tummy. The best exercises effectively work the major muscles of the abdominal region, including the rectus and transverse abdominis muscles and the external and internal obliques.

Bicycle Crunch

According to research published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, this exercise stimulates more muscles than many other exercises per electromyographic (EMG) measurements. Lie flat on the floor with your lower back pressed to the ground. Place your hands gently beside your head for support. Bring your knees to a 45-degree angle and slowly go through a bicycle pedal motion, alternatively touching your elbow to your opposite knee. Do not pull on your neck.

Crunch on an Exercise Ball

The abdominal crunch on an exercise ball is particularly beneficial for the rectus abdominis. Sit on an inflated exercise ball with your feet flat on the floor. Let the ball roll back slowly and lie back until your thighs and torso are parallel with the floor. Contract your abdominals raising your torso to no more than 45 degrees. For increased difficulty, move your feet closer together.

The Plank

This is a stabilization exercise which improves functional capacity and enhances muscular endurance. Lie face down on the floor with your feet together and forearms on the ground. Draw in your abdominal muscles and activate your gluteal muscles. Lift your entire body off the ground until it forms a straight line from head to toe, resting only on forearms and toes. Hold for 10 seconds to start. Rest and repeat.

Vertical Leg Crunch

The vertical leg crunch is effective for training the rectus abdominis and the obliques. Lie on your back and extend your legs up (knees slightly bent). Place your hands behind your head for support. Contract your abdominal muscles and rise up until your shoulder blades leave the floor. Do not pull on your neck or elevate your chin. With your legs in a fixed position, slowly lift your torso toward your knees. Lower and repeat.

Alternating Leg Walks

This exercise is beneficial for the rectus and transverse abdominus muscles. Assume the same position as for the vertical leg crunch, contracting your abdominal muscles and raising your torso up until your shoulder blades leave the floor. Keep your legs in a fixed position and slowly lower one leg until it is almost touching the floor; keep the other leg static. Return and repeat with the opposite leg.

The Captain’s Chair Exercise

This exercise is one of the few effective exercises (for the rectus abdominis) that uses gym equipment. Lift yourself up on the chair, forearms resting on chair pads, legs dangling. Slowly, in a controlled and deliberate fashion, lift your knees in toward your chest. Return them back to the starting position and repeat.

Reverse Crunch

This is another superior exercise for the rectus abdominis. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. You may place your hands on the floor or behind your head. Bring your knees up towards the chest and bend them at a 90-degree angle, parallel to the floor. Contract your abs and lift your hips off the floor in a very small, controlled movement. Lower and repeat.

Oblique Crunch

The oblique crunch targets the rectus abdominis, the external obliques and internal obliques. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Slowly drop your legs to the left and let your knees rest near the floor. Place your fingertips to the side of your head for support. Push your lower back into the floor. Curl up slowly so both your shoulders lift off the floor a few inches. Hold for 2 seconds and return to the start position. Switch sides and repeat.

Long Arm Crunch

The long arm crunch is similar to a basic crunch and strengthens the rectus abdominis and oblique muscles. Lie on your back with your arms over your head with your arms close to your ears and hands clasped. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Contract your abs and lift your shoulder blades a few inches off the floor. Lower and repeat.


This exercise is effective for all abdominal muscles and the hip flexors. Begin in a seated position, contract your abdominal muscles and lift your legs up to a 45- degree angle. Reach your arms up toward your shins. Try to straighten your spine. Hold this “V” position for several seconds (longer as you get stronger). Slowly return to starting position but before you reach the floor stop and hold for a few more seconds. Repeat.

About this Author

Michele Turcotte is a registered, licensed dietitian, and a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She has more than 12 years of experience in clinical and corporate settings, and has extensive experience in one-on-one diet counseling and meal planning. She has written freelance food and nutrition articles for Trouve Publishing Inc. since 2004.